Lent is first and foremost a season of reflection and repentance. It is a season in which we must take inventory of our hearts and minds in order that we might purify our thoughts and feelings. It is also a time of weeping and fasting. In light of Christ’s obedience to death on the cross we are confronted with the fact that we are not obedient sons and daughters. His time in the wilderness reminds us of our inability to keep the law, just like ancient Israel. The temptations that Israel succumbed to are the same ones that Christ victoriously overcame. His success in the time of testing and tribulation gives us hope that we, trusting in His goodness, can also navigate the many trials of our lives.
However, today’s gospel reading takes us back to the time just prior to Christ’s entrance into the wilderness. Here we find John the Baptist in the wilderness preaching a message of repentance. People from the whole region are coming out to hear what this eccentric prophet is preaching. Scores of people are being baptized and encouraged by John words: “After me comes he who is mightier than I, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie.” To the Jew this coming one would have most certainly been understood as the one the prophets of old predicted: the messiah of Israel.
In a way John is representative of the collective message of the Old Testaments prophets. He appears in the wilderness proclaiming the need for repentance and baptism into a new way of living. He wears a garment made of camel’s hair, fastened by a leather belt, which were both worn by the prophet Elijah. Like all of the Old Testament prophets he is prophesying about the one who is to come.
However, the thing that makes John unique is his diet. Verse 6 tells us that he ate locusts and wild honey. To us this seems strange and unimportant, but to those that came to see John it spoke of something of immense importance. If you remember, the Promised Land where Israel would find peace and rest was one flowing with milk and wild honey. Covenant obedience equaled not only deliverance, but also blessing. However, disobedience brought famine, wars, and plagues. What were some of those plagues? Yep, you guessed it: locusts. To the ancient society locusts meant death. Without crops one could not eat or trade for other needs. So out of the same mouth come both the promise of plenty and the warning of destruction. How John’s hearers responded would dictate what promise they received.
And his message is the same for us today. How will we respond to his message? Will we daily make room for Christ in our hearts? Will we make paths straight for our Lord? During this Lenten season let us be ever vigilant to daily repent of our wrongdoing. Let us be faithful to the new covenant that Christ has established. Let us seek to put to death the evil desires of our flesh so that we might enter in to the Promised Land and find peace and rest.